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Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Fischer

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Fischer

Channel Classics  CCSSA 43821

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Brahms: Symphony No. 3, Serenade No. 2

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - June 7, 2021

This issue from Iván Fischer and his incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra marks the completion of their acclaimed cycle of the four Brahms symphonies for Channel Classics that began in 2009 with the release of the composer’s 1st Symphony Brahms: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer .Symphony No. 2 followed in 2014 Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer and Symphony No. 4 arrived a year later. Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer.

The frustrating five year gap that has ensued made one wonder whether the cycle would ever come to fruition. Thankfully, in spite of the pandemic, it has happened. The recording began one day prior to Hungary closing its borders on September 1st, 2020 when the indefatigable Jared Sacks (producer and recording engineer) had just arrived from the Netherlands and, despite the lockdown, the venue remained accessible and the recording was completed.

The discography of this symphony is of course vast, so when it comes to a choice from the wide range of interpretations available, personal taste will inevitably be the deciding factor and in a review one can only hope to give a flavour of what is on offer here. But with these performers one need hardly say that in each of the four movements we are treated to outstanding orchestral playing of the utmost finesse.

Fischer’s evenly paced account of the opening movement is delivered with a magisterial grandeur that, combined with a well controlled dynamism, grips the listener from the first bar. The antiphonal seating of the orchestral violins (as would have been the case in Brahms’s time) helps to ensure that textures are clear and free from any trace of stodginess throughout. Naturally, Fischer maintains the balance of the symphony’s overall structure by making the movement’s exposition repeat.

The second movement is notable both for the conductor’s well-judged flowing tempi and also the immaculately blended playing of the distinctive BFO woodwind, while the following deeply expressive ‘Poco allegretto’ unfolds with a beguiling simplicity, avoiding any sense of the maudlin that can sometimes mar other versions. Fischer’s account of the finale’s main allegro is powerfully urgent and with the richness of the orchestral playing in the autumnal closing pages his performance is brought to an eloquent and satisfying conclusion.

There is no doubt that this is an outstanding account of Brahms’s least played, but most personal symphony and it will surely join those near the top of anyone’s wish-list, especially for collectors seeking a modern recording of the work in state-of-the-art sound. They can be assured that on this 5.0 multi-channel SACD Jared Sacks and his team have achieved a resplendent, lucid and well balanced recording typical of this label, one that equals those of the earlier Brahms issues listed above.

Since the 3rd is the shortest of Brahms’s symphonies, most versions on record assign one of more fill-ups to it. On the earlier issues Fischer has already given us the usual suspects – the Tragic and Academic Festival Overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn – so the coupling on this SACD is a most welcome choice.

Two of the young Brahms’s loveliest works are his Serenades Op.11 and Op.16. Yet the second of these, composed between1857 and 1860, appears fairly infrequently in the concert hall or on disc compared with the over abundance of the symphonies.

The A major work recorded here is a sunny piece full of fresh melodic invention. Its unusual scoring for winds and lower strings (no violins) may be one possible reason for its inexplicable neglect. The characterful wind players of Fischer’s marvellous Budapest Festival Orchestra relish to the full the opportunities Brahms offers them with playing of ineffable sweetness in each of the work’s five movements. Fischer’s tempi are appropriately relaxed but always alert and I cannot imagine a more enchanting or beautifully recorded account of this delightful work.

This release has been worth the long wait and I have no hesitation in giving it an unreserved recommendation.

Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (14)

Comment by hiredfox - May 25, 2021 (1 of 14)

It has been a long time coming, let's hope it is worth it. Presumably the actual recording took place pre-Covid?

Comment by Steven Harrison - May 25, 2021 (2 of 14)

I read somewhere that Jared mentioned they were able to record the Brahms 3rd when the Beethoven 9th recording had to be cancelled because of Covid in March 2020.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 7, 2021 (3 of 14)

Just today I discovered an interview with Jared Sacks by Rushton Paul (https://positive-feedback.com/interviews/jared-sacks-channel-classics/). I thought you might enjoy reading about his relationship with Iván Fischer (and others). The interview was December, 2020. Jared noted that they did this recording in August 2020. Jared sent the master file to Iván in November but scheduling a listening session and final mix is unpredictable with Iván. Release dates are difficult to schedule.

Cliff Notes: Fischer and his orchestra is one of only a few that record in studio rather than performance. Jared prefers this so he can place microphones wherever needed. They record an entire movement at one time. Then Fisher and many orchestra members crowd the control room to listen to the recording. They do this a couple more times to "get it right".

The entire interview was fascinating. I hope you do too.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Steven Harrison - June 8, 2021 (4 of 14)

Thanks for that. Good Read.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 10, 2021 (5 of 14)

FYI... Native DSD is offering a "box" set of all four symphonies at a 25% discount. No end date for this offer is listed. I took advantage of it.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by hiredfox - June 15, 2021 (6 of 14)

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Ivan Fischer who has championed the high resolution DSD/SACD recording format almost since its beginnings with Philips and has stayed 100% loyal to Channel Classics pretty much throughout his stellar career and to Jared for persisting against all the financial odds in releasing Ivan's recordings as physical discs for our small community.

I have, courtesy of Jared a personally dedicated signed photograph of Ivan that has graced my listening room for many, many years. Whether he approves of all the selections of music of my evening soirees remains a moot point.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 21, 2021 (7 of 14)

I had to do it. I couldn't ignore David Hurwitz's YouTube review of this album. Surprise! He doesn't like it. Well, to be honest, he really likes movements 2 & 3 plus the Serenade #2. However, he takes Fischer to task over movements 1 & 4. His review is his opinion and I accept that but in a separate video he notes the "finest" recordings of Brahms Symphony #3. Guess what? They are 1960s and 70s recordings in mono and stereo. No knock against older recordings as they have their place but with dozens of high resolution recordings available, why would older mono recordings be superior? Several times now, he has an objection to recordings that I think are exceptional. Personally, I will continue to rely on HR Audio for reviews.

To be clear, I have listened to this recording many times now and I truly enjoy it, especially the first movement.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by ubertrout - June 25, 2021 (8 of 14)

I listened to the Hurwitz review, and understand where he's coming from, but for me this is singular in recording quality and a top tier performance. I hadn't listened to the Brahms 3rd in a few years, so I might not catch every detail, I just know I found it excellent.

Comment by DYB - June 27, 2021 (9 of 14)

I personally do not understand why anyone listens to David Hurwitz's opinion!

Comment by Athenaeus - June 28, 2021 (10 of 14)

Well, I listen to his opinion. He's very knowledgeable; he seems to have listened to most of the discography; he often explains in detail why he likes or dislikes a given recording; he makes interesting comparisons; he doesn't hesitate to question received opinions, etc. etc. That doesn't mean he's always right, though. I do find him annoyingly cavalier at times.

One has to understand that music criticism isn't an exact science. Each person has their tastes and those tastes might align with those of professional critic X or Y, or they might not. Plus, we all have our good days and our bad days. Even the best critic will occasionally give an asinine review.

But I find reading reviews very useful. They help me choose what I buy, of course. They also bring to my attention recordings I didn't know. Finally, it's interesting to read what a professional critic has to say about a recording you already know well. And I think this is the best way to judge a critic, by reading their reviews of recordings you already knew. That way, you can evaluate for yourself how insightful they are and how their tastes compare to yours. With time, you can thus determine which critics are most likely to steer you towards the discs you will enjoy.

It's also important to get several opinions. It would indeed be stupid to only follow David Hurwitz's reviews. For any given recording, it's best to try to find a few reviews from different sources. And I think that an interesting source is David Hurwitz, even if I don't always agree with him.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - June 29, 2021 (11 of 14)

Athenaeus, thank you for your perspective as it brings up my own reasons for reading reviews. We are blessed both by today's recording/reproducing technology and a continued steady stream of high resolution classical music releases. I would think the classical music market is too small for such abundance but apparently not. Reviews and listening to previews is my way of evaluating a new release before hitting the checkout button. I can't afford all of it.

I'm a novice with classical music. One thing that reading reviews, especially here, has taught me is that classical music is way more complicated than sampling, for instance, the latest pop song. Classical music has structure, rules, and a robust ever changing compliment of instruments. Heck, now we must contend with a modern orchestra or HIP style orchestra or even a modified HIP style. Is it too fast or too slow? Does it follow composer markings? etc.. If I really enjoy the recording, does any of this matter, even with poor or mixed reviews? I think, "not". It does surprise me that I will read radically different opinions on a recording from "expert" reviewers. In a way, this actually makes me feel better because even the experts can't agree.

I'm with you. I listen to David's reviews, among others, because he does have a credible background. As a consumer, it then becomes my decision whether to agree or disagree.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Athenaeus - June 30, 2021 (12 of 14)

Another post to continue the discussion and to answer a question you asked in your June 21st comment (even though I do understand that it was a rhetorical question).

"Why would older mono recordings be superior?"

If two recordings are equally good interpretations but one is in older mono and the other is in modern stereo, we will all prefer listening to the stereo recording. That's obvious. But the problem is that the quality of interpretations varies a lot.

In the Fifties monophonic recording technology had reached a pretty high level of fidelity. Well recorded classical discs from the mid-Fifties generally sound good enough to allow the listener to enjoy the interpretation — the actual music! — without the sonics getting in the way. I'm not saying they sound as good as stereo or multi-channel recordings; they definitely don't! But they are perfectly okay. For example, last night I was listening to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 with pianist Robert Casadesus and conductor George Szell. This was recorded in 1955, yet my ears soon stopped noticing the sonics and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

So, one's quest for the best interpretation of a work one loves should stretch from today all the way back to well recorded mono. Assuming great interpretations occur at random throughout time, it follows that some of those great interpretations will be recorded in decent mono. (At another time, we can discuss whether this assumption is correct, but let's suppose for now that it is.)

However, if you're a beginner, you don't need to obsess about what the best recording of Brahms's Third might be. If you're enjoying Fischer's disc, that's all that really matters. I don't own it and I think I'll pass because I already have way too many Brahms symphonies in my collection. But I did listen to David Hurwitz's review. If you look past his histrionics, I think one can conclude that it's not a bad performance. And it's not an interpretation that perverts the work. It should therefore allow you to discover and enjoy this symphony. Later on, when you've listened several times to Fischer's disc, you'll probably want to hear some different interpretations and you can start listening to a few of those recordings that David Hurwitz or other critics recommend. You might enjoy them more, or less, than Fischer's. And who knows, you're favourite recording of this symphony might eventually come to be a mono one.

Comment by Don_Angelo - July 1, 2021 (13 of 14)

Hello, how would this release compare, according to you guys, if compared to Dorati/London, Karajan/Wiener, Karajan/Berliner (70s), Szell/Cleveland or Jurowski/London?

I have had the chance to listen to the first movement of this recording and found it quite unappealing. Yet I would give a chance to Fisher if advised to. The thing is I own over a dozen Brahms 3rd and have a fair share of “just ok” performance.

Comment by hiredfox - July 2, 2021 (14 of 14)

With over 50 versions of this symphony on SACD alone it is almost impossible to single out a first choice performance to satisfy everyone.

von Karajan still takes some beating despite the passing of the years and Rattle's more modern take with the same forces is arguably the only symphony of his Brahms survey that hits the mark.

Fischer rarely disappoints although some can find his performances somewhat quirky. This recording is not a stand out performance by any means and unless you are a Fischer fanatic (like me!) I would let it pass. Newcomers to Brahms 3rd should stick with one of the two tried and tested versions suggested above.